For quite some time Korea has been taken advantage of by other nations. In 1910 the country was annexed by Japan, and was heavily exploited for its agricultural and mineral wealth. When Japan decided to invade China, the Japanese forced Koreans to work in labor camps to supply the Japanese with war goods. By the end of World War II, 4 million Koreans had been forced into labor.
On August 8th, 1945 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and on the following day, they landed in North Korea. The Americans did not land on Korea until September 8th, 1945. The Soviet Union stayed north of the 38th parallel, like they agreed to do. However, by the time the Americans landed in Korea, the Soviet Union was well under way developing a Communist government in North Korea.
Communist influence was not restricted to the Northern half of the island. In the last of year of the war, a Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence (CPKI) was created to oppose Japanese rule. The Communist Party dominated. Soon ideas of Communism as a way to stop Japanese rule. Soon guerrilla warfare broke out. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 people died between the end of World War II, and the start of the Korean War in South Korea.
The United Nations declared that the government of South Korea, established by the means of a free election was the only legitimate government of Korea. The Soviet Union refused to accept the declaration of the United Nations, and on October 12th 1948, declared the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) to be the only legitimate government. Tensions mounted.
On June 25th, 1950, the powder keg exploded. North Korea, with the backing of the Soviet Union, attacked South Korea. The United States quickly moved to get United Nations condemnation of the attack. The Security Council voted 9 to 0 for an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of all forces to the 38th parallel. Simultaneously, President Truman ordered General MacArthur, the Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific, to evacuate American citizens from South Korea, and to provide naval and air support to South Korea south of the 38th parallel.
Meanwhile South Korean soldiers were being destroyed by Russian-made tanks and Russian-made aircraft. On June 28th, the United Nations laid the groundwork for military command in Korea by recommending "that the members of the United Nations furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security to the area." It was agreed that the United States government should appoint the commander. President Truman immediately called General MacArthur to tell him of his next mission
The bulk of the UN forces in Korea were American troops, and it was them who bore most of the initial fighting. Meanwhile, the North Koreans pressed on into South Korea. Their goal: to capture the port of Pusan, a port where supplies to UN troops came through. General MacArthur's first item on his agenda was to secure this port. While this was happening, President Truman asked for a $10 billion war program and continued to deploy American troops into the Far East.
The capital of South Korea, Seoul, fell within a week of fighting, and North Korean troops moved in as close as 50 miles from the port of Pusan. However, since the North Koreans had moved so close to Pusan, their supply line was overextended and overexposed. General MacArthur decided to gamble. He decided he was going to launch an attack behind North Korean lines, and hope to cut them off from their supplies. On September 15th, he made his move. With an invasion fleet of 261 American and British vessels landed 40,000 American troops at Inchon. The gamble paid off. The North Koreans were caught by surprise, and only 4,000 men were able to defend Inchon. Soon Seoul itself was recaptured, and the North Koreans were retreating across the 38th parallel.
With the success at Inchon, the United Nations immediately began to think about taking all of Korea, and unifying it under one government. The South Korean military crossed the 38th parallel, and within five days had moved 50 miles. On October 7th, General MacArthur ordered American, British, and Australian forces to cross the 38th parallel and join with the South Korean forces. On October 19th, the North Korea capital of Pyongyang was captured by UN forces. A week later, South Korean forces reached the border of China. Here the North Koreans fled across the Yalu River into China. General MacArthur promised to President Truman that the fighting would cease by November, and that if he pursued the North Koreans, China would not interfere. He was wrong. On October 16th, 1950 approximately 300,000 Chinese troops began to cross the Yalu River.
General MacArthur, on November 6th, ordered B-29 bombers to rain missiles down on the bridges of the Yalu River. President Truman immediately ordered MacArthur to postpone the attack. Truman did not want to widen to conflict by bombing Chinese bridges. On November 24th, MacArthur launched what he intended to be the final offensive of the Korean War. On the first day, the UN troops gained 10 miles. On the next day the Chinese forces counter-attacked and broke through UN lines. By the fourth day, the UN troops were in full retreat.
America and its allies were now worried about several possibilities
- Conservative pressures within the United States could lead to an American attack on China, either across the Yalu into Manchuria or through support for Chiang's troops across the Formosa Straits.
- Such action would result in direct intervention by the Soviet Union, which had recently signed a Treaty of Mutual Assistance with China
- A widening and continuing conflict in Asia would require increasing defensive resources that would result in leaving Western Europe dangerously exposed at a time of mounting East-West tensions.
- Truman would use the atomic bomb and the Soviet Union would retaliate with a nuclear attack of Europe.
While deliberations were going on in Washington, the Chinese continued to push towards the 38th parallel. By the end of the year they had pushed UN troops out of North Korea. On New Years Eve, the Chinese mounted a major offensive, which pushed through the South Korean ranks. On January 4, 1951 Seoul fell once again, this time to the Chinese. Once again the attackers had overextended and overexposed their lines, and once again MacArthur took advantage of it. This time the UN made slower progress, but on March 14th, Seoul was once again freed by the UN forces. Later that month, on the 31st, the UN forces reached the 38th parallel again.
This time the United Nations did not want to cross the parallel. Deliberations began immediately. MacArthur did press on passed the 38th parallel, and the relations between him and President Truman were once again strained. The final break between the President and MacArthur came on March 20, 1951. This is when MacArthur wrote a letter concluding with the following statement:
"It seems strangely difficult for some to realize that here in Asia is where the Communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest, and that we have joined the issues thus raised on the battlefield; that here we fight Europe's war with arms, while he diplomats there fight it with words; that if we lose the war to Communism in Asia, the fall of Europe in inevitable; win it, and Europe would probably avoid war and yet preserve freedom."
Upon the reading of this letter, President Truman relieved MacArthur of his command. Matthew Ridgway replace MacArthur, who had been the commander of the 8th army.
On June 1st, after a UN counteroffensive had driven the Chinese north of the 38th parallel, the UN renewed its peace offers. This was met with a Chinese threat to increase its commitment. UN forces then pushed the Chinese into an area called the "Iron Triangle". When this area fell to UN forces, the Chinese extended peace offers. Peace negotiations were scheduled.
However, on August 23rd, the Chinese accused a UN fighter aircraft of attacking Kaesong, and called off the truce negotiations. Then the Chinese proceeded to launch another offensive on August 27-28. The UN successfully counterattacked until both the Chinese and the North Koreans agreed to resume peace talks. At the talks one of the larger issues at hand was the release of prisoners. The United States refused to release Chinese prisoners who wanted to remain in South Korea or go elsewhere. About 70,000 of 132,000 prisoners fell into this category.
The peace negotiations took a turn when there was a change of leadership for both sides. In January of 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower took office. Two months later, Josef Stalin died. Within a week after the new negotiations, the first exchange of prisoners occurred. On June 28th an estimate 25,000 Korean and Chinese prisoners were allowed to escape by their South Korean jailers. Later, on July 27th an armistice was signed, and the Korean War came to an end. The UN forces had suffered more than 94,000 dead, About 55,000 of those were American. Approximately 1 million South Koreans and 2 million North Koreans died. Neither side could claim victory. The United States had thwarted an communist government over Korea. But had failed to unify Korea under one government. The Chinese were successful in maintaining a Communist border, but were unable to drive the UN forces from Korea alltogether.